Does Mislabeling COVID-19 Elicit the Perception of Threat and Reduce Blame?

Yixin Liu

Abstract

Associating a life-threatening crisis with a geographic locality can stigmatize people from that area. However, such a strategy may reduce the public blame attributed to the government because the perceived foreign threat establishes a scapegoat, which transfers that blame. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we investigated whether the “Chinese Virus” label placed on COVID-19 has elicited opposition to Chinese immigrants and reduced public blame attributed to the federal government. We used a survey experiment during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a list experiment to measure perceived threat. The descriptive analysis suggested a negative attitude toward Chinese immigrants overall, in which conservatives expressed stronger negative attitudes than did liberals and moderates. While labelling COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” did not make a difference overall, our exploratory results shows that it led to a significant increase in liberals’ perception that Chinese immigrants are a threat. However, the “Chinese Virus” label showed no effect overall in reducing the extent to which either liberals or conservatives’ attributed blame to the federal government.

Publication
Journal of Behavioral Public Administration
Yixin Liu
Yixin Liu
PhD Candidate